21.3.19

DAISY JONES & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid





In December 1972 I found myself in the US reporting for Melody Maker on a Deep Purple tour from Des Moines and Indianapolis, and in those days I was quite friendly with their guitarist Ritchie Blackmore who was fun to interview because he could be very indiscrete. Among the things he told me – and one that I didn’t report in MM – was that apart from the odd word about the night’s set in the dressing room immediately before a show he hadn’t once spoken to singer Ian Gillan on the entire tour thus far, and the group was four weeks into a six-week trip. He didn’t explain why but I gathered from hearsay that Gillan’s girlfriend, whom he had unwisely brought along for the ride, was reporting back to the WAGS at home on the after-hours behaviour of the other boys in the band. When I learned this I was surprised anyone talked to him at all.
         Coincidentally, the support act on this tour was Fleetwood Mac, at this time comprising Mick Fleetwood, John & Christine McVie, Bob Welch, Bob Weston and Dave Walker. They were going through a transitional period and it later transpired that the McVie’s marriage was in trouble through John’s drinking and that Weston was having an affair with Mick’s wife, Jenny Boyd, which very soon led to his dismissal. Three years later, of course, Fleetwood Mac would be joined by Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham who opened up a whole new canvas for them.
         I was reminded of all this – the Blackmore/Gillan feud, John M’s boozing, Jenny and Bob’s fling – as I read Daisy Jones & The Six, an oral history-styled rock-band roman à clef novel in which the protagonists talk, in great detail and with disarming frankness, about their backgrounds, the formation of their group, its rise to fame and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that led to its dramatic dissolution.
         Set for the most part in 1970s California and loosely inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumours and the romantic entanglements that beset the group while it was being recorded, it is chock full of sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, and also a right old page turner; very realistic, albeit a bit OTT here and there, but that didn’t stop me finishing it in one six-hour sitting, which means it kept me interested and wanting desperately to know how it would all end.
         Daisy Jones is a spoilt brat from a rich Los Angeles family who don’t seem to care when their beautiful daughter becomes a Sunset Strip groupie. Having moved out at 15 and shacked up elsewhere, she returns home one morning to collect some clothes. When her father asks her if it was she who broke the coffee maker she replies, “Dad, I don’t even live here,” which neatly sums up her dysfunctional upbringing. Free-spirited, reckless, promiscuous and far too fond of drugs and drink, she discovers a latent talent for singing and songwriting, links up with The Six, makes powerful music and causes havoc.
         The Six, relocated from Pittsburgh to LA, are fronted by brothers Billy, married with kids, on vocals, and Graham, single, on guitar. An earlier guitarist was drafted and killed in Vietnam (a storyline nicked from Bruce Springsteen’s Castiles days*) and his place is taken by his moody brother Eddie who doesn’t like being told what to play by Graham or, especially, Billy. On keyboards is Karen, also beautiful, and much admired by Graham. On bass is Pete, silent and anonymous, and on drums is Warren who has a touch of the Keith Moon about him, in it for the birds and the booze but, like Karen and Pete, very good at his job.
         Daisy and The Six both record for the same record label and become managed by the same (gay) manager so it is only a matter of time before it is proposed that they join forces, a situation that doesn’t sit well with everyone in the camp but leads to enormous, stadium-filling, multi-platinum, success. So far so good but the presence of two beautiful girls in a group with five men, at least two of whom are hungry for love, leads to inevitable complications.
         I don’t want to give too much away but I found the story incredibly engaging, and the characters enormously attractive. Taylor Jenkins Reid has done her homework and somehow managed to accurately convey the tensions at work within bands, be they artistic, romantic or driven by envy, and the scenes in recording studios, on the road, at rehearsals and, especially, during writing sessions between Daisy and Billy, as the group’s composers, all ring true. She paces her story well, the oral structure of the book giving rise to judicious hindsight and occasionally poignant recollections. I felt that the success achieved immediately after Daisy joins the band was a bit too sudden – F Mac released nine albums before mega success beckoned, while Daisy releases one, The Six two and they put out one, the big one, together – but a slow build would have slackened the pace in a book wherein the author’s style is to keep her foot flat down on the accelerator throughout.
         The conceit, explained in a brief note at the beginning, is that the author is interviewing the members of the band, one of their wives, some of their entourage, a few friends and onlookers – including, amusingly, the concierge at the Continental Hyatt House – about 30 years after the group imploded. As a result there are opposing points of view and different people remember the same incident or situation contrarily, sometimes amusingly. Everyone is very candid, perhaps overly so when it comes to the sex and drugs, but just about everyone I encountered on the road back in the 1970s was at it one way or another, even if I didn’t report on that aspect of the rock world for MM.
         So I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in that world when it really was a bit of a free for all. Finally, I see from the internet that Daisy Jones & The Six is soon to become a 13-episode miniseries to be aired by Amazon video, backed by Reese Witherspoon amongst others. That comes as no surprise as the book does read a bit like a film script – and there’s a neat twist at the end that I won’t reveal here.

_____________

* I also detected a whiff of Bruce’s Born To Run autobiography here and there, and also perhaps Trampled Underfoot, Barney Hoskyns’ oral history of Led Zeppelin. 

17.3.19

FLEETWOOD BAC



Deterred by the price of tickets to see Fleetwood Mac at Wembley Stadium this summer (£300+), but encouraged by the price (£18), and proximity, of Fleetwood Bac at St John’s Church in Farncombe, near Godalming, Mrs C and I set off in atrocious weather last night to spend about three hours in their company.
         The church, and the gig really was in a church, not an adjoining parish hall, was packed, which might have caused its incumbent priest, had he been there, to cast a rueful glance at the crowd and offer a prayer to the almighty that ‘standing room only’ might also apply for matins on Sunday mornings. The behaviour of the congregation was decidedly unchurchlike, however, especially towards the end of a fairly generous two-and-a-half-hour set that included 24 songs from the F Mac canon, drawn largely from seventies Mac era but with a nod towards Peter Green’s Mac and Stevie Nicks solo catalogue.
         Fleetwood Bac boast on their website that they are the UK’s first and most authentic FM tribute show, endorsed by Mick Fleetwood himself and also Bob Brunning*, who played bass in a very early line-up and wrote a book about them, one edition of which, called Rumours And Lies, I published when overseeing Omnibus Press. To this end the Bac perform in character throughout their show, and their real identities remain concealed even on their website. So as well as looking and dressing the part, in monochrome outfits as per the covers of Fleetwood Mac (1975) and Rumours (1977), ‘Stevie’ becomes a slightly scatter-brained Californian airhead, ‘Christine’ a nicely-spoken, sensible English rose, ‘Lindsey’ a moody-looking study in concentration, ‘Mick’ a rather lugubrious ghoul, and ‘John’ a silent, anonymous workhorse. The girls’ appearance is accurate too, their hair-dos a perfect match, with ‘Stevie’ a tad on a curvy side and ‘Christine’ slim and poised, constantly flicking her blonde bangs aside in the manner of the real Ms McVie. ‘Lindsey’s’ hair, on the other hand, resembled a carelessly-barbered dreadlock wig and perhaps needs reconsidering, especially in view of Buckingham’s more mature latter-day look.
         There was no stage, only a drum riser a few inches off the ground, so the view from anywhere beyond the first few rows of seats – no pews – was poor and ‘Mick’ remained pretty much obscured throughout. ‘Lindsey’ played electric and acoustic guitars on the right, ‘Christine’ stood at a portable keyboard on the left with ‘John’ behind her and ‘Stevie’ sang and danced in the middle in front of ‘Mick’, her floor-length black outfit and shawls suggesting the mysteries of Ms Nicks’ enigmatic mindset.
         They opened up with ‘You Make Loving Fun’ and it was immediately apparent that the Bac’s mimicking skills were of a high order. The girls’ vocals were spot-on, the backing let down only by the drums which lacked the snap of the real Mac and sounded at times a bit like someone hitting a biscuit tin, a flaw I put down to the building’s acoustics or inadequate miking. The bass was sturdy and very deep, the guitar on point, if a little shrill at times, and the keyboard wash as good as the real thing. ‘Dreams’ followed, then ‘Say You Love Me’, both executed with due diligence, and then it was time to dig deeper for ‘Albatross’ and ‘Oh Well Part 1’. The former was blemished by the guitar tone, with far too much piercing treble tarnishing Peter Green’s stately, subtle masterpiece, but the latter was executed well and better suited to the occasion. A few older punters even joined in, not giving the answer you wanted me too.
         These excursions into the depths of Fleetwood Mac gave individual members opportunities to scurry off stage but unlike other tribute acts I’ve seen there were no changes of costumes, apart from ‘Stevie’s’ shawls, and she was up next to float pleasantly through ‘Sarah’ before ‘Christine’ took over for ‘Little Lies’ and a solo turn on ‘Songbird’, definitely a highlight of the evening. “This is the time when everybody leaves the band,” she announced to a few wry chuckles, and her rendition was just as lovely as Ms McVie, prompting some tuneful singing along and far and away the biggest ovation of the evening thus far. Not to be outdone ‘Stevie’ returned with ‘Lyndsey’ picking acoustic for ‘Landslide’, perfectly capturing the rasp that Ms Nicks has developed over the years.
         The girls left the boys to themselves for a blues trio-style ‘Need Your Love So Bad’, but although the crowd appreciated ‘Lindsay’s’ blues rock workout, his soloing lacked the delicacy of Peter Green’s understated approach. Then again, to duplicate the mastery of Green’s unique talent – instinctively knowing that what you leave out is an important as what you play – has eluded many guitarists whose CV far exceeds playing in a tribute act. The first half closed with ‘Rooms On Fire’, a hit for Stevie alone in 1989 and the first of two solo Nicks songs played – the other was ‘Edge Of 17’ – followed by a spot-on ‘Gold Dust Woman’.
         After an overlong interval Fleetwood Bac returned with ‘Big Love’, the ending of which, on record at least, seems suspiciously inappropriate for a place of worship, but the Bac tempered it somewhat, perhaps wary of wrath from above. It seemed to me as if ‘Lindsey’s’ vocal mike needed upping a bit, a fault that persisted throughout the second half. At times his vocals were barely audible, especially compared to the girls. ‘7 Wonders’ was followed by another excursion into the past, ‘The Green Manalishi’, those portentous chords and a rave-up solo drawing appreciative applause from the blokes in the audience.
         The contrast between the two Fleetwood Macs – and I date the shift to the arrival of Buckingham and Nicks – enable Fleetwood Bac to switch moods abruptly, so the lilting ‘Gypsy’, like ‘Sarah’ earlier in the set, seemed like another band entirely. Again ‘Stevie’ sang perfectly, as did ‘Christine’ on the cheerful ‘Everywhere’ and the rather melancholy ‘Oh Daddy’, a sequence I would have swopped around in the light of what followed.
         What did follow was the ebullient home stretch. ‘Don’t Stop’ was a crowd-pleasing singalong, everyone standing now; ‘Tusk’ a rhythmic incitement to dance with a drum solo that was, thankfully, brief; and ‘The Chain’ a moody slow-starter with the Formula One bass riff rumbling from somewhere in the crypt and damnation descending as the congregation sang about keeping us together.
         The encores, inevitably, were ‘Rhiannon’, with Stevie suitably witchy in her black top hat, and ‘Go Your Own Way’, again a bit spoiled by ‘Lindsey’s’ vocals being largely unheard but once the girls joined in all was well. If the band’s enthusiasm and the crowd’s devil-may-care community singing reduced this finale to a bit of a mish-mash at this point it didn’t really matter – by the end no one gave a monkeys whether it was the Bac or the Mac, which is how it should be.

A picture from their website, not last night's gig

         As I wrote in a post in 2014 about a David Bowie tribute show, there are some in my line of work who take a rather condescending view of tribute acts but I am not among them. Most of those who gathered at St John’s Church in Farncombe last night are unlikely ever to see the real Fleetwood Mac, or even afford to, but the pleasure they all took from this show nullifies any derision that purists might feel towards what is, after all, a shameless but nevertheless skilful facsimile. I take the view that Fleetwood Bac and their ilk are not only giving people a good time but keeping the genuine article’s music before the public and serving to remind them of the depth of their catalogue, in this case Peter Green’s FM included, and that can only be a good thing.




* Bob Brunning, with whom I became friendly through publishing his book, died in 2011.

12.3.19

HAL BLAINE (1929-2019)




I switched on my computer this morning to discover that Hal Blaine had died. Back in the sixties, if we cared, we simply assumed that Dennis Wilson played drums on records by The Beach Boys, Michael Clarke on records by The Byrds and Mickey Dolenz on records by The Monkees. And nobody did much care who played drums on records by The Ronettes, or The Chiffons, or The Crystals, or Jan & Dean, or Sonny & Cher, or The Mamas & The Papas, or Neil Diamond, or Nancy Sinatra, or The 5th Dimension, or Simon & Garfunkel, or any of the other 40 number ones and 350 top ten hits and as many as 10,000 sessions –including Elvis, Leonard Cohen and god only knows (pun intended) who else – on which Hail Blaine played drums.
         Session men were mysterious back room figures back then, probably a bit long in the tooth, set in their ways and – like Robert Plant assumed when Jimmy Page told him about the ‘session bassist’ he had in mind for Led Zeppelin – ‘some old bloke with a pipe’. In reality they were more important to those of us on the dance floor than the faces in the music papers, especially the rhythm sections.
         I have no idea how many songs in my iTunes folder feature the drumming of Hal Blaine but it’s probably more than a thousand, not just all those Spector, Beach Boys, Byrds and S&G tracks but heaps of lesser known songs by lesser known acts too. I don’t suppose any drummer was more prolific than Blaine, and when I come to think about it I don’t suppose any individual musician appears on more of these songs I have. And I take it for granted.
         In Out Of His Head, his critical study of Phil Spector, Richard Williams introduces his readers to the session musicians who worked with the great record producer, working his way through keyboard players, bassists, guitarists and horns. “Last, but also first,” he writes, perceptively, “were the drummers, whose work was to provide the foundation on which Spector’s greatest achievements would be based. In the beginning there was Hal Blaine, who virtually created a style by himself and became an elder statesman among West Coast session musicians. Of all the elite corps of session musicians who became known collectively as the Wrecking Crew, Blaine was most crucial to the Wall of Sound.”
         I am indebted to Richard for drawing my attention to the fade out in ‘The Bells Of St Mary’s’ by Bob E. Soxx & The Blue Jeans in which, uncharacteristically, Blaine thrashes his kit unmercifully, effectively pre-empting the drumming style adopted by Keith Moon. Mostly, of course, he’s just there, like a metronome, like Al Jackson in the MGs, Benny Benjamin at Motown and Charlie in the Stones.
         Because we played Phil’s Christmas Album every year as presents were being opened, our two kids associated its sound with that time of the year and, for years afterwards, believed that ‘Be My Baby’, ‘Then He Kissed Me’, ‘Baby I Love You’, ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ and the like were Christmas songs. I’d love to have been able to tell Hal Blaine that, and that he provided the (American) soundtrack to the sixties for me – and I never even knew it, not until I really cared. Thanks Hal.

(I found the LP at the top of this post on the internet, and liked it because Hal is on the beach, and the first hit he played on was Jan & Dean’s ‘Baby Talk’, a US number 10 in 1959, which is not really surf music but echo-drenched doo-wop, a bit cheesy but we are talking 1959.)